Going through a mental health crisis can be life altering and changing. I have been through multiple crises and have never come out unscathed. Most notable, tangible losses for me have included work and my driving licence. Loosing my driving licence has been incredibly difficult and has impacted my sense of independence, freedom and mobility. Being out of work was incredibly difficult as I pride myself on being reliable, helpful, doing my bit for society and making a difference in this world.
Other less visible losses, but still as profoundly impacting, have been my own voice being heard, issues around my self-confidence and self-guilt for being unwell and the impact it has caused to others. Sadly, I have also received not helpful comments or input from others. There is still so much stigma, prejudice and judgment towards someone that goes through a mental health crisis. I am grateful that, mostly, I received love and encouragement, support and the help that I needed. I, fortunately, was not blamed by the ones that I matter most too.
Other changes I faced through my mental health crises were to my physical health and to my overall sense of wellness. Psychiatric medications and admissions that left me sedentary saw me gain 5 stone in just one year. Not only did I gain excess fat, I gained fluid retention and looked incredibly puffy. Sadly, inpatient units are not designed for health and wellness, I just felt as though I was on suicide watch and that staff were obsessed with risk management. This is not the case with all units and all members of staff, must I add, but the general lay out of the unit, the culture of what I have picked up from the multiple admissions that I have had. Maybe I was too unwell to notice otherwise. The best units I have been to are where the programmes have included eco-therapy and access to a gym, a green space, plants in the building and regular walks with the occupational therapists or members of staff.
Since coming out of a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit in November 2019, I have turned my health and wellness around. I am now loosing the excess weight that I gained, reapplying for my driving licence, speaking out with confidence again. I wanted to share with you the 4 steps I took to achieve this and hope it helps you to reclaim your health and wellness, your dreams for your life and zest for living.
Step 1 – Positive self-talk
Practice positive self-talk and decreeing positivity and desired outcomes over your life. I say every morning ‘I have a sound mind’, ‘I am good to my body and my body is good for me’.
If a negative thought enters my mind, I say ‘No!’ or ‘Stop!’ & I ask God to speak over me instead. If you do not believe in God, you might recognise this voice as your ‘inner voice’ or a sideways thought that comes to mind. When I say ‘no’ to a thought and let God speak a thought to me he usually says something very kind and gracious. If you struggle to hear the quiet voice, you could say a positive thought that you have rehearsed – such as ‘I am a good person’, ‘I am loved’, ‘I have great value’, ‘I can do…’,.
Write yourself a list of positive thoughts and pin them up somewhere, rehearse them every day until your mind is full of positive sayings. I say ‘I have a sound mind’ even when I am anxious, because if I say it enough it becomes the truth, I start to believe it, and I do, have a sound mind, so do you.
Step 2 – Setting yourself up for the day
Setting yourself up for the day ahead makes a difference in how your day will pan out.
I set my day up by spending the first part of the morning devoted to a space that only I am in, in silence. I silence the mind of all fears, worries and any negativity, I let those thoughts go. I meditate on a beautiful river, you can visualise your favourite, safe place. I pray to God about my day and give it to him, I give him my thanks, praise and my requests. I also journal, some people find journalling really useful, a chance to get out your thoughts and feelings, notice and be curious about what is coming up, reflect and move forward.
I then set my to-do list for the day and work my way through that. Having the time in the morning to set up for the day really helps me to focus and be productive on what I want to achieve in the day. I am also very gracious to myself, if I do not achieve the list it can be rolled over. I check that what is on the list actually needs to be there. My to-do list is taken from my dreams/goals list, so I am working towards an overall goal by breaking it down into smaller bite size, daily / weekly tasks.
Try mind-mapping what you want to achieve this month, by three months, by next year, five years, your lifetime. Dream big! My examples include – learn Spanish; set up a wellness recovery centre; lose four stone. These big goals are then broken down to achievable, realistic daily / weekly goals. For example, lose four stone = go for three cycle rides per week, practice yoga three times per week, drink more water, eat more veg!
Step 3 – move your body
Find a form of exercise that energises you, that doesn’t deplete you. Find a form of exercise that you can fit into your lifestyle regularly and that you look forward to doing. It takes a few first steps to get there – first you need to experiment with different kinds of exercise to find your fit. Then, you need to fit it in around your schedule – or adjust your schedule to ensure you fit it in. Then you need to step out of your comfort zone and go for it! Everyone has to start somewhere, so don’t worry if you have never done it before, are concerned about your weight or flexibility, don’t worry about what other people think – you are the one that has to live with you! Do what is best for you – always!
Exercise is great for releasing feel good hormones such as Serotonin and Endorphins; helps build confidence; gives you a focus; changes your body in terms of how it feels and looks; reduces excess fat; it helps you to feel strong on the inside and outside; gives you a sense of discipline and can be a chance to meet new people. Exercise is also great for grounding, improving the sense of presence you feel, connectedness to your body and the Earth, knowing your body. It also does a great deal for improving physical fitness and reducing the risk of disease, especially cardiovascular disease.
Step 4 – good gut health helps mental health
You may have heard the saying ‘gut feeling’, or ‘butterflies in your tummy’, that is because that instinct is now scientifically proven, to be from the gut – brain connection. The gut is connected to the brain by the vagus nerve. The gut has thousands of microbes, Serotonin (feel good hormone), is produced in the gut as well as in the brain. In fact, more Serotonin is produced in the gut than the brain.
Kombucha – I wish I added kombucha to my diet moons ago! Kombucha is a fermented drink that gives your gut good bacteria. It aids in digestion, heals the gut, is known to be detoxifying, reducing liver toxins. Some claim it has helped improve diabetes and rheumatism. The evidence out there is limited, but what I have found is that it has personally benefited me. I have noticed huge improvements to my digestion and to my sense of being grounded since drinking this. I have spoken with others who also claim the same benefits to their digestion and mental health. Hopefully, one day the scientific studies will catch up. For now, I will continue to do what works for me. If you have never tried it before perhaps you could give it a go and keep a journal of what you notice to see if it does benefit you or not.
Raw fruits and vegetables – Studies have found that eating ‘raw’ can have benefits to mental health. I personally love raw vegetables, especially dark green leafy vegetables such as Spinach & Kale. I think eating mindfully in a nourishing way has benefited my mental health greatly. The more variety of colour of food that you get in the day the better. Trust your intuition / your gut instinct with food, your body knows what it needs. But, be careful of misreading it, for instance, you can feel hungry but actually you are dehydrated and a pint of water will replenish that quench. Listen to you body, it can sometimes symbolise something else going on, for instance a sugar craving could mean that you are missing some sweetness from your life, perhaps explore that and see what the gap is – sometimes we look to food to be a filler, when something deeper is going on. I know that can sound a bit la la, but I have again, found it to be true for me when I have been curious about my nutritional choices and eating habits. I have now, mostly, broken my unwanted habits and am enjoying a whole foods diet that works for me.
I hope these 4 steps help you to recover a sense of desire to reclaim your health and wellness after all that you have lost through a crisis. I believe God will give you back what you have lost, 10 fold, and there is a scripture that promises this to us:
“The Lord says, “I will give you back what you lost
to the swarming locusts, the hopping locusts,
the stripping locusts, and the cutting locusts… ” (Joel 2:25)